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The interrogator told me to say goodbye to my friend Muhannad because he was going to throw me from the third floor. Ala, aged 14, interviewed by Defence for Children International – Palestine.
In the West Bank close to 8000 children as young as five have been arrested and unlawfully detained for crimes such as throwing stones since 2000. 75% of them report physical, mental and verbal abuse during their interrogations and arrests, according to Defence for Children International – Palestine. Regularly they are not informed of their rights and are kept from having a lawyer and/or parent with them whilst they are being interrogated. This means that the interrogators are able to extract confessions under extreme duress which are then used to convict them of their crimes. Confessions extracted in this manner are illegal under Article 5 & 11 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In many cases children are beaten whenever they respond with a denial of their charge until they eventually admit their “guilt”.
These interrogations are designed to terrorise. The spread of terror and psychological damage seems to be strategic and intentional. Children who are detained are generally arrested on the way to school or at home in the early hours of the morning. 60% of arrests recorded by the Defence for Children International – Palestine happened between midnight and 5am. This is both unnecessary (they could be summoned to court) and seems to be a tactic specifically designed to remove any notion of control or security within their own homes and communities. It stresses the power the Israeli military have over everyday life in Palestine.
The mental scars that can be left by this treatment are long lasting and destabilising for both parents and children alike. Children who are released from detention centres are prone to anxiety disorders, depression and insomnia. Psychological and societal affects are far reaching: naturally children who are detained begin to do worse in school. A slippery slope begins from their detention. As Nadar Abu Amsha from the East Jerusalem YMCA rehabilitation program puts it, “the purpose is to break the children and make them live in fear and confusion so that they become an inactive and unproductive generation.”
Sahar Abbasi, Head of Women’s Projects for Madaa Silwan Creative Centre, provides an example of how detention affects Palestinian society: “they (Israel) are creating their own enemies by this policy really. During negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, Israelis have repeatedly made the argument that there is neither the culture nor the education of peace among the Palestinians and therefore there is no one to talk to.” The Israeli claim that there is no one to talk to is deeply ironic. Firstly, it may be that individuals within Palestine do not accept the definition of “peace” as proposed by the Israeli government. But more importantly, Israel is blocking any possibility for a culture of peace to emerge while it treats the next generation of Palestinians as a criminal underclass.
The longer the occupation goes on, the longer crucial services like education continue to be disrupted. Palestinian human rights organization Al-Haq states, “Israeli occupation threatens the education of new generations of Palestinians living in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) and consequently endangers the future of a people.” Examples from apartheid in South Africa would support this statement: higher crime rates, low economic growth, underdevelopment and low self-esteem within youths are attributed to an education and societal system designed to make black people feel endemically inferior.
Despite struggling uphill against the Israeli’s control of their school age population Palestinians achieve exceptionally high educational standards for a country under crippling occupation. UNICEF have said that, “although seeking an education is arduous for Palestinians and despite the many physical obstacles they face education is still prized by Palestinians.” Add to this the fact that Palestinians have one of the best literacy rates in the Middle East at 97% and have many of their educated elite travelling all over the world to work in a variety of fields, the achievements are testimony to the drive, determination and willpower of the Palestinian people to succeed, against the odds.
Find out more about the situation for children in Palestine here: